During the second round of the Presidential Election, it was the height of irony when the “leftist” Macron was advocating for free markets, while “right wing” Le Pen wanted more government control over the economy.
On June 18th, 2017, newly-elected President of France, Emmanuel Macron, finalized his victory over the French establishment with a sweeping parliamentary majority for his party, La République En Marche. The Parti socialiste was smashed to only a few seats, and rightly so, after their economic failures for the previous five years; and Marine Le Pen’s Front Nationale collapsed after their leader’s failures in the Presidential Election a few weeks ago. Macron went from, just a year ago, a completely unknown socialist economic minister to forming a political party almost overnight and ousting the corrupt but powerful Socialist Party from government.
France is without a doubt currently experiencing a time of crisis. Due to the entrenched interests of labour unions, “job protection” and “entitlements” have prevented growth, leading to an unemployment rate of 9.5% and a youth unemployment rate of 21.7%. Not only that, but former President Francois Hollande’s 35-hour workweek and his other entitlements have ensured that almost all of the measly job growth of his tenure was with temporary, part-time work. But France’s economy has been stagnating for decades, long before the term of Hollande. In 1995, President Jaques Chirac attempted to reform the economy, but once his plans died in Parliament he never again attempted to take on the interests of the labour unions – which now wreak havoc on France’s economic prospects.
Enter Emmanuel Macron, 2017: A man dedicated to shrinking government spending from 58% of GDP to 52%, allowing more flexibility with the 35-hour work week, cutting 120,000 civil service jobs, and cutting the corporate tax from 33% to 25%. His plan is not quite as ambitious as the plan of self-described “Thatcherite” François Fillon of the Republicans’ (whom this author would have cast his vote), but his reforms are needed nevertheless. During the second round of the Presidential Election, it was the height of irony when the “leftist” Macron was advocating for free markets, while “right wing” Le Pen wanted more government control over the economy. That being said, many are doubtful of Macron’s ability to overcome labour unions and their entrenched interests when attempting economic reform. Those concerns are justified, of course, but it is to the advantage of La République En Marche that its legislators are almost all newcomers to politics and therefore less likely to be corrupt themselves.
One of Emmanuel Macron’s vices, however, is his refusal to raise the retirement age of 62. With rising lifespans and an aging population, this is one free market structural measure that La République En Marche refuses to take, setting the stage for a social security crisis within a decade. On a separate note, traditionalists and social conservatives oppose LRM’s social policies, although those policies are simply just as bad or good (depending on the reader’s perspective) as one would expect from a centre-left European political party. During the campaign, the President was attacked for his stance on refugees and border control. He has pledged to continue the immigration policies of Francois Hollande, contrasted with his opponent Marine Le Pen who wished to effectively close borders. With Macron’s victory, France will continue its previous policy – which is not necessarily catastrophic. With that said, one day France may require ‘common sense’ immigration reform, such as that proposed by François Fillon.
Macron was also called ‘weak’ on his stance on fighting radical Islam due to his perceived unwillingness to fight domestic terrorism. This is a valid concern, however there are no plans for France to stop the campaign against the so-called Islamic State in the Middle East, and evidence suggests that he will continue the same policies to fight domestic terror as his predecessor. A major criticism of his foreign policy has been the resulting unneeded degradation of good relations with the United States after Macron’s multiple condemnations of the American pullout of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Overall, Macron is willing to solve one of the long-term problems France faces: economic stagnation. However, his proposed reforms are much more watered down in contrast with his opponents’ proposals, and he also may very well abandon his pledge in the face of opposition from labour unions like his predecessors. There are, as well, more long-term problems France faces, such as the need for immigration and welfare reform that Macron’s party simply refuses to touch. So to answer the question, ” is Emmanuel Macron France’s salvation or its downfall?” the answer is neither. Macron will solve some of France’s problems, and ignore others. Such is the nature of centrist politics.